New Question about Software Piracy


#1

I have a tough time looking at this issue objectively, because for whatever reasons I didn’t even consider it as a moral (as opposed to legal) issue before I visited these Forums. So I need some input. I understand the basic moral arguments against it, but I have a specific question:

All the arguments I have seen relate to the 7th Commandment. But all the definitions of the 7th Commandments I have seen, such as the Aquinas, Trent, Baltimore, Pius X and New Catechisms define stealing as the unjust privation of goods from another. Everyone knows that copying does not deprive the owner of something, so the argument is made that it is depriving the original software company of profit that is their due.

However, the original copy had to be paid for. Thus an item that was produced was sold at a fair price. Is it not the right of the new owner to do what he wishes with it? Even make copies and give them away? (I don’t argue that selling copied software would be wrong). Now before anyone posts an answer, I would ask them to consider this: How would giving away copies of software differ fundamentally from Christ giving away copies of bread and fish to 5,000 men?

P.S. I ask for charity in your responses. I don’t need to be scolded for trying to rationalize something. I’m just trying to find an answer I can understand and agree with.


#2

I am sympathetic to your position. When you give away copies of software or music, you’re not taking away the creator’s music or software. I think an argument could be made that prohibiting a user from giving away copies of software he paid for is immoral, based on Catholic social teaching.

The rub is that you typically don’t buy software from Worst Buy (or some such place), you buy a license to use the software – at least that’s what the seller wants you to believe.

Incidentally, the vast majority of software written is custom software written for a specific need (i.e., not commercial software you’d buy at Worst Buy).

These are just my random thoughts. FWIW, I work in the software industry.


#3

The rub is that you typically don’t buy software from Worst Buy (or some such place), you buy a license to use the software – at least that’s what the seller wants you to believe.

That’s exactly where I run into a problem. I see how, from a legal standpoint, the End User License Agreement states that you aren’t supposed to have full rights to the software. But, practically, you have purchased a manufactured item consisting of plastic and mylar film (a CD). Do you own the CD or not? Do I own the plastic but not the laser-inscribed indentations in the mylar? Is there any legitimate precedent in Catholic moral theology that states that you can sell an item without really selling it?


#4

Wrongo! When someone expends the effort to create something for sale, and uses the process well established of either licensing or royalties, and you choose to side-step that by not purchasing you own copy, you are stealing. Whether you approve of licensing or royalties is not the issue; that is the means that has been created to provide distribution of the product and remuneration to the creator of the product.


#5

[quote=otm]Whether you approve of licensing or royalties is not the issue; that is the means that has been created to provide distribution of the product and remuneration to the creator of the product.
[/quote]

The point is that if I buy a CD, why can’t I do what I want with it? Am I technically stealing if I give a copy of it to a friend? I don’t think so; although, it could be argued that I’m still violating the 7th Commandment.

Personally, I believe that most EULAs are not compatible with Catholic social teaching, but I’m not suggesting that you should feel free to download whatever you want via Bit Torrent or whatnot.


#6

One more thought:

What I believe is that it is wrong to take away someone’s right to modify and/or redistribute software that someone possesses.


#7

[quote=Dr. Colossus]I have a tough time looking at this issue objectively, because for whatever reasons I didn’t even consider it as a moral (as opposed to legal) issue before I visited these Forums. So I need some input. I understand the basic moral arguments against it, but I have a specific question:

All the arguments I have seen relate to the 7th Commandment. But all the definitions of the 7th Commandments I have seen, such as the Aquinas, Trent, Baltimore, Pius X and New Catechisms define stealing as the unjust privation of goods from another. Everyone knows that copying does not deprive the owner of something, so the argument is made that it is depriving the original software company of profit that is their due.

However, the original copy had to be paid for. Thus an item that was produced was sold at a fair price. Is it not the right of the new owner to do what he wishes with it? Even make copies and give them away? (I don’t argue that selling copied software would be wrong). Now before anyone posts an answer, I would ask them to consider this: How would giving away copies of software differ fundamentally from Christ giving away copies of bread and fish to 5,000 men?

P.S. I ask for charity in your responses. I don’t need to be scolded for trying to rationalize something. I’m just trying to find an answer I can understand and agree with.
[/quote]

If St Joseph were a programmer today what would he expect? I think he would want due compensation for his work but once that was met he would let the consumer do with it what they will.


#8

first of all i think that most software that can be copied is prevented so by the very theives that charge the outrageous prices for it. they deliberately make things go obsolete so you have to keep upgrading and if you dont you run into all sorts of roadblocks. the big dogs usually steal the little guy’s idea and take a huge if not most of the cut. im still using W98 because it came with my computer. i wont pay for anything unless it came on the compurter. The whole napster scam was that it was hurting “artists”, first of all 90% of those “artists” are trash, second they charge 20$ for a cd that only cost 75c and fill 90% of the cd with music you dont want.

in terms of sin, it is a good question. i knew people who gave out the latest games to their friends. i dont see this as bad because there are tons of peope who will buy it no problem. what percentage of people who get a copy of something would otherwise buy it…i would say a low percent. it would be a problem if they were just handing out copies to passsers by. you can also get lots of cds, PC and video games from the public library “free” (you pay taxes)…this is not stealing.


#9

[quote=Dr. Colossus]. . . Is there any legitimate precedent in Catholic moral theology that states that you can sell an item without really selling it?
[/quote]

When I go to Avis or Hertz I buy the use of the car; I don’t own it and can’t sell it. When I rent a house I buy the use of the house; I can’t sell it.


#10

[quote=otm]Whether you approve of licensing or royalties is not the issue.
[/quote]

Agreed. The question is whether licensing is a legitimate form of business when looked at through the prism of Catholic social teaching.


#11

[quote=Joe Kelley]When I go to Avis or Hertz I buy the use of the car; I don’t own it and can’t sell it. When I rent a house I buy the use of the house; I can’t sell it.
[/quote]

Renting something is different than “buying” a license. There are similarities, to be sure, but they are really a different type of transaction.


#12

[quote=Joe Kelley]When I go to Avis or Hertz I buy the use of the car; I don’t own it and can’t sell it. When I rent a house I buy the use of the house; I can’t sell it.
[/quote]

Actually it’s legal to re-sell software. It happens on eBay all the time.


#13

[quote=Catholic Dude]first of all i think that most software that can be copied is prevented so by the very theives that charge the outrageous prices for it. they deliberately make things go obsolete so you have to keep upgrading and if you dont you run into all sorts of roadblocks. the big dogs usually steal the little guy’s idea and take a huge if not most of the cut. im still using W98 because it came with my computer. i wont pay for anything unless it came on the compurter. The whole napster scam was that it was hurting “artists”, first of all 90% of those “artists” are trash, second they charge 20$ for a cd that only cost 75c and fill 90% of the cd with music you dont want.

in terms of sin, it is a good question. i knew people who gave out the latest games to their friends. i dont see this as bad because there are tons of peope who will buy it no problem. what percentage of people who get a copy of something would otherwise buy it…i would say a low percent. it would be a problem if they were just handing out copies to passsers by. you can also get lots of cds, PC and video games from the public library “free” (you pay taxes)…this is not stealing.
[/quote]

Good points, I agree with you completely. But…for the sake of this discussion I think we should probably leave out arguments by degree and judgment. There has to be an objective answer that would work whether the software and music moguls are avaricious jerks or not.


#14

[quote=Dr. Colossus]All the arguments I have seen relate to the 7th Commandment.
[/quote]

Then you haven’t read my arguements. I argue it from a perspective that piracy of intellectual property is a violation of the 4th Commandment, not the 7th.

The Church specifically teaches that obedience to the civil authority falls under the 4th; that the Government rules with the authority of God and to disobey that authority is to disobey God.


#15

[quote=Timidity]The Church specifically teaches that obedience to the civil authority falls under the 4th; that the Government rules with the authority of God and to disobey that authority is to disobey God.
[/quote]

We are not obligated to obey laws that are immoral. If I believe that portions of the DMCA, for example, are unjust, I don’t think I’m obligated to follow them.


#16

[quote=Timidity]Then you haven’t read my arguements. I argue it from a perspective that piracy of intellectual property is a violation of the 4th Commandment, not the 7th.

The Church specifically teaches that obedience to the civil authority falls under the 4th; that the Government rules with the authority of God and to disobey that authority is to disobey God.
[/quote]

But is a system of commerce based on licensing of goods to the extent that the physical media is owned but the information contained therin is not (a distinction which cannot be discerned except psychologically) in keeping with Catholic social justice? If it is not, then we are not obliged to follow the law under pain of sin.


#17

[quote=Dr. Colossus]But is [this] system of commerce … in keeping with Catholic social justice? If it is not, then we are not obliged to follow the law under pain of sin.
[/quote]

The Church teaches that there are only three conditions under which it is morally appropriate (indeed, it may even be our moral duty) to break the civil law. The conditions are:

[list]
*]when a law is contrary to the demands of the moral order, or
*]when a law is contrary to the fundamental rights of persons, or
*]when a law is contrary the teachings of the Gospel.
[/list]The system of ownership that you described was established by the authority of God working through the Congress of the United States (yes, I wince as I type that, yet it is the teaching of the Church, so I’ll accept it).

Are intellectual property rights contrary to the demands of moral order? Congress seems to think it’s quite the opposite–that the demands of moral order require such rights.

Are you willing to claim that we have a fundamental right to own a copy of Everquest without paying for it?

Do you truly feel that it is contrary to the Gospel to prohibit the free distribution of Grand Theft Auto without the creator’s permission?


#18

[quote=Timidity]Do you truly feel that it is contrary to the Gospel to prohibit the free distribution of Grand Theft Auto without the creator’s permission?
[/quote]

Yes (not that I’m a fan of GTA).


#19

[quote=Benedictus]Yes (not that I’m a fan of GTA).
[/quote]

Support your position please. (Er, that’s the position that it’s against the teachings of Gospel for a government to allow the creator of a work the right to limit it’s distribution. There’s no need to support your position on GTA! :slight_smile: )


#20

Timidity put it quite eloquently. The bottom line is that it IS a sin to break the civil laws. Read Romans 13. It is very clear. Civil laws are passed under authority from God. To disobey civil law is to disobey God. As a musician, and the owner of a recording studio (non profit), I can tell you, it truly does hurt music industry workers when people make copies of music without paying for it.


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